Trial of Daesh terrorists from the ‘Beatles’ cell begins in the US


The first trial on US soil of an alleged senior figure in the Daesh group, an accused member of the kidnapping and murder cell known as the “Beatles,” will begin near Washington on Wednesday.

El Shafee Elsheikh, 33, is accused of involvement in the murders of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, as well as aid workers Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller.

The day after the selection of 18 jurors, including six alternates, prosecutors and Elsheikh’s attorneys will face off for the first time in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

Elsheikh and another former British citizen, Alexanda Amon Kotey, were captured in January 2018 in Syria while trying to flee to Turkey.

They were handed over to US forces in Iraq and transferred to Virginia in October 2020 to face charges of taking hostages, conspiracy to murder US citizens, and supporting a foreign terrorist organization.

Kotey pleaded guilty in September 2021 and faces life in prison. Under his plea agreement, Kotey will serve 15 years in prison in the United States and then be extradited to Britain to face further charges.

Elsheikh chose to fight the charges. He faces an unconditional sentence of life in prison.

Kotey and Elsheikh’s four-member cell, nicknamed the “Beatles” by their captives because of their British accent, was allegedly involved in the kidnappings of at least 27 people in Syria between 2012 and 2015.

The hostages, some of whom were released after their governments paid ransoms, came from at least 15 countries, including the United States, Denmark, France, Japan, Norway and Spain.

The “Beatles” allegedly tortured and killed their victims, including beheading them, and Daesh released videos of the killings for propaganda purposes.

Ringleader Mohamed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John”, was killed by a US drone in Syria in November 2015, while the fourth “Beatle”, Aine Davis, is jailed in Turkey after being convicted on terrorism charges.

Kotey, known as “Ringo” to the hostages, and Elsheikh, nicknamed “George,” allegedly supervised the detention centers for the hostages and coordinated the ransom negotiations, according to US authorities.

The pair were also accused of engaging in a “protracted pattern of physical and psychological violence against hostages,” which included drowning, electric shocks and mock executions.

Ricardo García Vilanova, a Spanish photographer who was held captive for six months in 2014, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) that “torture and murder were daily occurrences” in an atmosphere of “sadism”.

Several former European hostages are expected to testify at the trial along with a Yazidi woman held with Mueller, an aid worker who was kidnapped in Syria in 2013.

Mueller’s parents say she was tortured before being handed over to Daesh group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who allegedly raped her repeatedly before killing her.

According to the indictment, Elsheikh was born in Sudan and moved to Britain as a child.

After becoming radicalized, he went to Syria in 2012 and joined Daesh.

Throughout his trial, four rows of seats will be reserved for former hostages and their families.

Diane Foley, the mother of James Foley, and Bethany Haines, the daughter of British hostage David Haines, intend to attend the trial.

“This has been a long time coming,” Diane Foley told AFP. “Accountability is essential if we are ever going to stop hostage taking,” Foley said.

Britain stripped Kotey and Elsheikh of their British citizenship but delayed their transfer to the US until the latter assured London that the death penalty would not be sought for the two men.

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